The New York State Department of Health recently announced two regulatory enhancements to improve patient access to medical marijuana.

On March 22, 2017, chronic pain was added as a new qualifying condition for patients seeking medical marijuana in New York. “Chronic pain” is defined as “any severe debilitating pain that the practitioner determines degrades health and functional capability; where the patient has contraindications, has experienced intolerable side effects, or has experienced failure of one or more previously tried therapeutic options.” There also must be documented medical evidence of such pain having lasted three months or more, or the practitioner must reasonably anticipate that such pain will last three months or more.

This is a significant development for New York’s medical marijuana program, which is seen as one of the most restrictive of its kind in the United States. Prior to the addition of chronic pain, only 10 conditions qualified for medical marijuana: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease. Glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder are still noticeably absent from the list.

The New York State Department of Health also announced that, effective as of March 15, 2017, physician assistants may now register to certify patients for medical marijuana, as long as their supervising physician is also registered. This measure is intended to increase the number of practitioners available to certify patients (previously, only physicians and nurse practitioners had this capability).

To certify patients for medical marijuana, medical professionals in New York are required to take a four-hour online course.